This ran Feb. 2009, on Florida Health News, an online news source at http://www.floridahealthnews.com. My Column runs on the Consumer Corner tab.
PAIN, I HAVE A BONE TO PICK WITH YOU, Living Well column by Kumari Kelly
When I hurt my ankle, I picked the best bone doctor I knew – one who treated Olympians and star athletes. Anyone good enough for million-dollar knees, I figured, was good enough for me.
As a busy reporter with three children in elementary school, I needed healthy limbs as the snow skiers needed their goggles. A stress fracture, I assumed, feeling intense pain radiating from my left ankle. As a recreational runner, I was used to aches and pains from overly taxing workouts. Strains here and there only meant you were finding the physical threshold, not an awful thing.
Re-entering the exam room with my x-rays, the doctor took up the dry-erase pen to explain the films. I remember only one word, scrawled in block letters on his large board: Tumor.
Tumor. Tumor. Tumor. Tumor.
I don’t know what else he said. Bone cancer nested in my family tree. My grandmother had faced radiation and scary prognosis years before at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Fear sunk its claws into me. But after a flurry of scans and two second opinions from cancer specialists, it became clear that the tumor was benign. That didn’t make it any less painful.
The bone specialists said surgery could take my pain away. Cut the bone, scoop out the tumor and glue the bone back together. Simple, he said. Just like breaking a leg and watching it heal. It didn’t seem so simple to me.
Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear.
What if I didn’t walk right? What if he cut too much bone? What if it WAS cancer and they were wrong? What if surgery didn’t help the pain? The fear seemed to intensify the pain. I lived with it for two more years, but finally I conceded it was time for surgery.
My last words before going under anesthesia were instructions on where to find my will.
Now, five years later, I can see the surgery did more than cure the pain. It taught me a lot about mind-body connections. Namely, they are real.
Anxiety can increase our perception of pain. And it can keep us from seeking medical attention, even when it may save our lives. So it’s smart to talk about your fear with your physician and your loved ones. Being afraid doesn’t mean you’re crazy; it means you’re normal.
Write to Kumari Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Guidance from an elder brother
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